ST. LOUIS – Wisconsin coach Greg Gard never lost confidence in Bronson Koenig, even when he struggled in the Big Ten Tournament and failed to hit a 3-pointer in an NCAA Tournament win over Pittsburgh.
Gard proved just how much he believed in him Sunday night.
After watching the talented sharpshooter hit a tying 3-pointer from well beyond the arc, Gard drew up another play for him with a couple ticks left on the clock. Koenig took the inbound pass, whirled around and buried the shot to give the Badgers a 66-63 victory against the East Region’s second-seed Xavier and a spot in the Sweet 16.
“I tried to tell him to keep shooting. The last couple of games the ball hasn’t gone in like he wanted to,” Gard said. “You can’t lose confidence in him. Tell him to keep working and it’ll work out OK.”
Far better than just OK.
Koenig finished with six 3-pointers and 20 points. Ethan Happ had 18 points and Vitto Brown finished with 12 for Wisconsin (22-12), which improved to 15-5 in the NCAA Tournament over the past six seasons.
The No. 7 seed Badgers will face sixth-seeded Notre Dame on Friday in Philadelphia.
“I knew it was going in before it even left my hand. That’s a shot I practice a lot pregame,” Koenig said of his game-winner. “I just let it fly and I knew it was going in.”
He had a similarly good feeling about his 3 from well beyond the line that tied it at 63 with 11.7 seconds remaining. And when Edmond Sumner was called for an offensive foul driving to the basket for Xavier (28-6), the Badgers got the ball back with a chance to make Koenig’s memorable night even better.
“I just tried to channel my inner Steph Curry,” Koenig said, referring to the reigning NBA MVP.
No. 6 Notre Dame 76, No. 14 Stephen F. Austin 75: In New York, Rex Plfueger tapped in a miss with 1.5 seconds left and Notre Dame survived a valiant effort by Stephen F. Austin to reach the Sweet 16.
No. 2 Villanova 87, No. 7 Iowa 68: In New York, Josh Hart scored 19 points and second-seeded Villanova advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2009 .
No. 5 Maryland 73, No. 13 Hawaii 60: In Spokane, Washington, Melo Trimble scored 24 points and grabbed eight rebounds for the Terps.
No. 10 Syracuse 75, No. 15 Middle Tennessee State 50: In St. Louis, the insufferable zone of Syracuse ground Middle Tennessee State’s magical March ride to a halt, as the Orange beat the Blue Raiders.
No. 2 Oklahoma 85, No. 10 VCU 81: In Oklahoma City, Buddy Hield scored 19 of his 36 points in the final eight minutes to help Oklahoma hold off VCU.
Hield, who didn’t score for more than 10 minutes to start the game, made 9 of 12 shots in the second half after going 2-for-8 in the first.
No. 3 Texas A&M 92, No. 11 Northern Iowa 88 (2 OT): In Oklahoma City, Alex Caruso scored 25 points as Texas A&M overcame a 10-point deficit with less than 30 seconds remaining in regulation to come back for a double-overtime victory over Northern Iowa.
No. 1 Oregon 69, No. 8 Saint Joseph’s 64: In Spokane, Washington, Dillon Brooks scored 25 points to lead Oregon over Saint Joseph’s in the second round of the West Regional.